Spotlight on Jarnac, Charente
Graham Downie throws the spotlight on his beloved Jarnac in Charente and falls in love with this sunny French town all over again
My family and I moved to a small village on the outskirts of Jarnac in 2003. We had been looking for the right region of France for quite a while. We travelled from Normandy and Brittany in the north to Languedoc-Roussillon in the south, and, while each area had its merits, none felt like home.
The minute we crossed the bridge into town, with the pretty River Charente meandering below, we knew that this was the place we wanted to watch our children grow up.
Entry to the town is dominated by the beautiful Courvoisier ch�teau on the banks of the river. This was the favourite cognac of Napoleon Bonaparte and in the summer you will hear accents from all over the world as tourists flock in to take a tour and finish with atasting of this incredible and famous digestif.
Visit and you’ll also be able to sit on the banks of the Charente and watch the youngsters messing about on the river. If you want to join in the fun then hire canoes from one side of the bridge, paddle up to the weir and you’ll be able to ‘shoot the rapids’, or you could take a paddle up river to the village of Bourg-Charente and take lunch at the Michelin-starred La Ribaudi�re restaurant.
In the afternoon, you could perhaps explore the Fran�ois Mitterand museum. This modern building, on the Quai de l’Orangerie, houses gifts that were given to the longest-serving President of France when he was in power. Mitterand was born in Jarnac and was also buried here after his death in 1996.
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I love the summer months here. Being in the second sunniest part of France, it sometimes seems that they last an eternity. However, my very favourite time of year has to be deepest winter when most of the tourists are long gone and the town takes on a serenity and thoughtfulness that would be hard to imagine at other times of the year.
You’ll often find me in my favourite caf� on a Saturday morning, reading L’Equipe and chatting with the locals about rugby, football or the rising price of truffles. Indeed, it was on one such morning that the barman, Maurice Champagne (I kid you not), told me the history behind the sketch hanging on his wall.
The drawing is of two knights fighting a duel in 1547, from which came the phrase ‘un Coup de Jarnac’. This phrase has come to mean a tricky or cunning manoeuvre in fencing.
The good news is that Charente is one of the best-value areas of France that you could choose to buy in. The average price of a house here is just €110,000 (source Notaires de France) with apartments averaging out at around €1,180 per square metre. According to Notaires de France, house prices rose by 1.7% in 2010/11. The number of houses bought by international buyers is statistically insignificant.
As a very rough rule of thumb you would be looking at around €150,000-€250,000 for a townhouse and between €250,000 and €350,000 for a country house with pool and views over the vines. Of course you can buy property at below these prices and for well above these sums but broadly speaking they should give you an idea.
There is no shortage of estate agents in town to choose from either. For a town with just 4,500 inhabitants, there are no less than five agences immobili�res in the centre of town as well as others who cover the area while working from home or from a head office elsewhere.
If you are looking for a house in the centre of the action then there is a particularly pretty townhouse on the market for a smidgen under €300,000. It is in excellent condition and the owners have retained all the period features. It has three bedrooms and a small, walled garden; perfect for ap�ritifs before going out to dinner at the gorgeous Restaurant du Ch�teau on the main square.
There is also a gem of a house overlooking a pretty square that is available for only €149,800. It has four bedrooms, is in good condition and has a small courtyard just large enough to sit and enjoy the steaks you can buy from the boucherie nearby.
town and country
Many international buyers prefer to be in the countryside though – close enough for popping in to town to be a pleasure, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle to feel relaxed and away from the everyday stresses of life.
Leggett Immobilier are marketing a truly beautiful country house, set on a hilltop with commanding views over the vines. On the market for €899,000 it has five bedrooms, six reception rooms and is set in five hectares of mature gardens. This type of maison bourgeoise always takes my breath away as I drive around the country roads in Charente. Sometimes, when the sunflowers and vines sit side by side, I will stop the car, smile and remember the 20 years I spent commuting up to central London when I worked for Savills and Chestertons.
If this is rather top heavy for your budget then there are plenty of other country houses available to choose from.
For example, there’s a terrific house on the outskirts of Jarnac available for €395,000 with a roof terrace offering views of the vines. It has four bedrooms, a huge games room and an orchard in the gardens. Just imagine doing a few lengths in its pool in the morning to work up an appetite then jumping out of the water to pick some fresh cherries, plums and kiwi fruit for breakfast.
Of course, I could go on and on. Over the years, I have come to realise that people have a huge variety of tastes and desires when it comes to buying their dream home. The difficulty you will face is the huge choice available to you. Within 20 minutes of Jarnac you will find the prime riverside towns and villages of Bassac, St-Simon, Bourg-Charente and Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. Or how about looking for something on the edge of Cognac itself? You won’t be disappointed. n
Graham Downie is a private client buying agent covering the Charente Valley